August 20, 2000

 

WEB MIND # 4

by Rudy Rucker

 

ITíS THE 21st CENTURY!

 

Just now I started eating a peach and I noticed it has a Web address on it.The URL is on a little sticker; it urges me to go to e-zrecipies.com and find instructions for peach pie.And this sets me thinking to the fact that, yes, this really is the 21st Century.

When I go in to teach my classes at San Jose State University, I see students with their head shaved on the sides but hair on top, the side parts with a red stripe, the hair on top raspberry and moussed into spikes like Jugheadís crown.These are just regular students.These are the hairdos I used to see in comic books that tried to show the 21st Century.But now theyíre here and nobody questions them.Itís time.

In the Old Navy store near Union Square in San Francisco they have twenty pairs of mechanical legs hanging from the ceiling, marching in place, wearing Old Navy pants.All the belts and gears of the devices very visible.And in the Leviís store a block or two away, you move from level to level in a giant open-mesh industrial elevator, also with all its gears and cables exposed.Gears and machinery are quaint and nostalgic for the 21st Century.Weíre all through trying to be 21st Century.We are 21st Century.

I bought a 21st Century toilet a couple of months back.It looks quite a bit like a toilet I would have bought last year.But now itís the year 2000, and the only kind of new toilet I can buy anymore is, by definition, a 21st Century toilet.Weíre in science-fiction land.

 

MEMORIES OF NEW YEARíS EVE

 

What ever happened with the Y2K crisis anyway?What a hoax, what a scam, what a rip-off.Where are all those self-appointed experts now?Off counting their money.You can sell people anything if you tell them itís for public safety.Did you notice that nothing at all happened to the Third World countries that didnít bother having a Y2K-preparedness program?

I still remember how tense I was on New Yearís Eve.

Early in the day when the Millennium rolled over in Tonga, I get a mental image of the Earth as being like one of those chocolate oranges, pre-cut into time-zone-sized segments.And the segment with Tonga has worked its way free and is tumbling off alone in black space, the Sun glinting on the curved sector of its rind, its part of the South Pacific sloshing off its edges.And presumably the rest of the South Pacific is pouring down into the huge wedge-shaped gap, a thousands-of-mile-high waterfall that vaporizes into steam or even into plasma when it hits the molten nickel of the Earthís exposed core.Itíll drain the Pacific dry.I wonder how long until the drop in the water level will be noticeable in the San Francisco Bay.

And then that evening, in a restaurant in San Francisco, Iím watching a TV to see how the thin end of the new Millenniumís wedge will impact Times Square. And, yes, the lights stay on!I was relieved and almost surprised.I think deep down it was something more fundamental than the lights going out that Iíd been fearing, something as drastic as the instant decay of matter, or the Earth breaking up like a peeled orange, something like the sudden advent of the Void, the disapperance of cozy old spacetime and the start of the End Times and Armageddon.These deep, irrational fears are what the Y2K terror was all about.

When midnight hit San Francisco, my wife and I were out in the street, taking our little stand against clone-culture and itís paranoid urgings to stay home.There were fireworks, big fountains of colored balls and paisley-like swirlers, then skyrocket explosions, maybe ten minutesí worth.And then it was midnight.Green computer-controlled laser lights were fanning over the crowd, painting things on the buildings.Yes, the computers were still working.On the building closest to us, the laser kept drawing a jaggy squashed jiggle, like a picture of the soul of the machine.ďBehold, our Lord and Master still liveth.Ē

Dozens of people were talking on cellphones.Thatís very 21st Century.But so many things hadnít changed.People still wore long pants, and thick coats, and leather shoes, and wool hats; the future hadnít swept that stuff away, we were wearing wool and leather because our race figured out over thousands of years that theyíre practical and comfortable.

 

21st CENTURY MEDIA

 

I saw a big museum exhibit of video art the other day.I wonder if this is the art for the 21st Century.Slowly the cumbersome technology might move out of the way.Youíd be able to buy a flat wall-hanging that is a self-contained video unit: the flat screen, the memory, the player, the solar power.A live painting.Thatís one of the ways it could go.

Here in San Jose weíre in the heart of Silicon Valley and itís all computers, all the time, everywhere.In the airport thereís a billboard from a law firm that wants to help you if your new software gets you sued for patent infringement.Thereís onscreen ads before the features in the movie theaters, and more than half of the ads are from companies in the Business, all looking for people to do ó what?The job descriptions didnít even exist when I was growing up.Network administrator, software engineer, digital designer.Moloch wants warm bodies, even when weíre taking time off.

Slowly itís getting to be more fun to look at the computer than at TV.You can find whatever you want.Itís almost too easy.A sad thought: imagine a young man who spends all his working hours programming, and then when his sex drive tells him its time to do something else, instead of going out and looking for human companionship he surfs to a porno site and polishes off that end of things with a half-hour clicking frenzy.And then he orders his take-out food delivery from the Web too.An online life.But, dammit, the resolution is so low!

The most 21st Century thing Iíve seen of late are the new reality TV shows, Survivor and Big Brother.A lot of people prefer Survivor ; the show acquired visibility first, and itís a little faster-paced.But Iím partial to Big Brother.Itís a purer set-up: thereís no cameramen in with the characters.I donít find the characters all that likeable or interesting, mind you.But I think the idea of the show is so ó 21st Century.I even went to the bigbrother2000.com Web-site and looked at the live feeds for awhile.Karen and Brittany were eating lunch and talking about surveillance cameras.

Itís not too hard to imagine that in just a few years there will be as many different TV channels as there are web-pages now.And a lot of them are going to be non-stop round-the-clock ďme-showsĒ about individual people or groups of people.Usually the people will be participating.But not necessarily.With another notch or two of technology, weíll have small, robotic ďdragonflyĒ cameras that fly around and spy on things.The unauthorized Pam Anderson channel!

The 21st Century.Itís just beginning.And now Iím going to dare to eat my 21st Century peach.